As local and national LGBT activists continue to fight the Irving-based Boy Scouts’ ban on gays, a glimmer of hope appears on the horizon
Sunshine is a single Dallas mother and an out lesbian.
A few years ago Sunshine, who declined to give her full name, decided she wanted to get her son involved in extracurricular activities.
“He wanted to try Boy Scouts because one of his friends was in it,” Sunshine said in an email to Dallas Voice.
“Once they found out I was openly out, they would not let him join a troop,” she said.
Sunshine said no one called her back to help get her son in the Scouts.
“Sad for a fourth-grader at the time,” she said. “However, he is 14 now and doesn’t seem like it affected him one bit.”
Marlin Earl Bynum, a local gay schoolteacher who’s been active in protesting the Boy Scouts ban on gays, said Sunshine’s case goes even beyond Boy Scout anti-gay policy. Under the policy, a child shouldn’t be excluded because a parent is gay, Bynum said.
Bynum was a Cub Scout and a Webelo. But his recent interest in the Boy Scouts and the group’s discrimination against gays and atheists developed when he moved to Las Colinas, a few blocks from the Boy Scouts national headquarters in Irving.
“It’s directly connected to bullying,” Bynum said of the policy. “When you tell someone ‘we don’t care how accomplished you are, but you can’t be part of us,’ it can cause you to be suicidal.”
Sunshine and Bynum are just a few of the local LGBT people who’ve been personally impacted by the Boy Scouts policy banning gays, which dates back at least to a 1978 memo that read: “We support the decision of the Mankato, Minn., Explorer post Advisor regarding the denial of membership to youth members who declare themselves to be homosexuals.”
But cracks in the BSA policy have begun to emerge of late, with two prominent Executive Board members declaring their support for diversity.
Meanwhile, Jennifer Tyrrell made news in April when she was removed as den mother for her son’s Cub Scout troop in Ohio.
Tyrrell served in the position for a year, but after being named treasurer of the pack and finding inconsistencies in its finances, she was removed because she did “not meet the high standards of membership that the [Boy Scouts of America] seeks.”
And Zach Wahls, a former Eagle Scout raised by two moms, joined her fight after accidentally meeting her in GLAAD’s New York office. Wahls delivered boxes containing a petition with 284,000 signatures to the Boy Scouts calling for them to end the discriminatory policy and reinstate Tyrrell.
‘I hope you burn in hell’
Bynum said that for him, the recent national developments may mean it’s time to relaunch his weekly protests at the Boy Scouts headquarters, at 1325 West Walnut Hill Lane.
The Boy Scouts moved to Irving from New Jersey in 1979. Today, about 500 people work at the Boy Scouts National Council. Almost 80 percent are women.
Two years ago, Bynum was a regular protester at Boy Scouts headquarters.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, he would spend two hours picketing along the curb, greeting people as they went into the National Scouting Museum.
Last week he conducted a short protest and got several thumbs-ups, horn honks and waves.
Bynum kept a diary of his earlier experiences.
“I won’t say I changed the world, but at least I felt I was exposing the hate this organization supports by not allowing gay people in as members and leaders,” he wrote in one entry. “Someone from the museum was on the phone with someone and was very upset that there was ‘this guy out front that had a sign that said BSA and Hate on it.’”
A week later he wrote, “I had three different people stop and ask about the protest and were shocked that the BSA kicks out gays.”
On another day, a woman going to the museum with her children said she would tell them they should change their policy.
Another stopped, asked what Bynum’s gay Pride flag meant and said: “I hope you burn in hell. You are what’s wrong with America.”
As a high school teacher, Bynum said he’s concerned about how the BSA policy, which teaches the 2.7 million boys currently involved in scouting that homosexuality and atheism are wrong, is encouraging bullying in schools and affecting young people’s self-esteem.
Bynum didn’t come out as gay until he was 42 and had just fought a battle with cancer. For 25 years he had been a Church of Christ preacher.
“And that’s not United Church of Christ,” he said. “It’s the bad one.”
Bynum knew he was gay from the time he was young but lived a celibate life and preached in small-town churches in West Texas.
Now he’s an atheist, openly gay and teaches in Keller.
“Cancer kind of wakes you up,” he said.
Bynum said he protested when Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Dallas, preached against gays and lesbians.
“Gay kids heard those horrible things over and over,” he said. “You hear ‘God hates you’ and you become suicidal.”
And he claims that’s exactly what the Boy Scouts are doing.
When Bynum looks through the Boy Scout manual, he sees a wonderful program to build character. And he said the Boy Scouts do wonderful things for the community. But he said they are also teaching kids hate and violence against gays.
Popcorn colonel fights back
Jon Langbert was the Popcorn Colonel for his son Carter’s University Park Cub Scout troop. Many Boy Scout groups finance their year’s activities through popcorn sales, similarly to the Girl Scouts and cookies.
Langbert was so successful, sales increased to $13,000 the year he took over from just $4,000 the year before.
But in 2010, a couple of dads in Carter’s troop heard that a gay dad was involved and insisted he leave. The troop’s leader, happy with Langbert’s involvement and thrilled with his sales, said no. The dads took their complaint to the Area Council on Harry Hines Boulevard.
The Council sided with the dads and insisted Langbert’s official involvement with the Scouts end.
While Carter remained a member of his troop, Langbert pursued equality in the Boy Scouts quietly from within the organization, but now he’s taking a different approach. He’s pushing the school district, the PTA and the Dads Club. And he’s been successful locally.
The Boy Scouts have been kicked out of two of the four Park Cities elementary schools, Langbert said.
“Don’t collect fees and then turn around and discriminate,” he said.
In one of the schools, a gay couple had two adopted kids. One of the dads was a potential president of the PTA, yet he couldn’t be involved in the Boy Scout troop at the school. Langbert said school officials saw the “irony and hypocrisy and bigotry all rolled into one” and stopped sponsoring the scouts.
“My focus is on winning the battles I can win,” he said.
With the school district, he’s insisting they enforce their own nondiscrimination policy.
He called Tyrrell’s case a shame. He said there’s no example of a gay or lesbian parent being removed from his or her position because of misconduct.
“It’s other parents agitating,” he said, and then, once the gay parent is gone, typically not picking up the slack.
That happened in his case. After the parent complained about Langbert being the Popcorn Colonel, the troop leader offered to get rid of Langbert if someone would take over the position. The parents declined to volunteer as popcorn colonel but went to the Council and had Langbert removed.
“The tide is turning,” Langbert said. “They’re a hold-out and risk becoming an anachronism. If the military is fine with gays, how can the Boy Scouts not be fine with gays?”
Board members ready for battle
Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for GLAAD, agreed.
He’s been working with Tyrrell since she contacted his office in mid-April.
“Her story resonated so well because of her beautiful, happy, healthy family,” he said.
Tyrrell is raising four children with her partner, Alicia.
Ferraro said parents in her son Tiger’s troop rallied around her. They never had to talk about gay issues until the Boy Scouts brought it up, forcing them to discuss with their children why their leader had to step down.
“People in the area are now vocal supporters of her and her family,” Ferraro said. “She’s become one of America’s favorite moms.”
Since the Supreme Court enshrined the BSA’s right to freedom of association as a private organization in 2000, it has seemed like nothing could be done about BSA’s policy excluding gays and atheists. That may be changing with new, vocal board members and a change of president.
The outgoing president was Rex Tillerson, better known as CEO of ExxonMobil, a company with the lowest possible rating on LGBT equality from the Human Rights Campaign.
The incoming BSA president is Wayne Perry, who is retired from McCaw Cellular, which became a part of Dallas-based AT&T — a company that receives the highest possible score from HRC.
Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, is a vice president of the Boy Scouts. And Stephenson recently issued a statement that reflected AT&T’s commitment to diversity and his disagreement with Boy Scout policy regarding sexual orientation.
“Diversity and inclusion are part of AT&T’s culture and operations, and we’re proud to be recognized as a leader in this area,” he said.
Stephenson’s spokesman, Marty Richter told Dallas Voice he’s committed to changing the policy. But Richter said it was another board member, Ernst & Young Chairman and CEO James Turley, who is even more outspoken on the subject.
In his statement recently, Turley said, “As I have done in leading Ernst & Young to being a most inclusive organization, I intend to continue to work from within the BSA Board to actively encourage dialogue and sustainable progress.”
Richter said he believes Turley will lead the effort to make the Boy Scouts inclusive with Stephenson’s full support.
But the current position of the Boy Scouts is that the policy isn’t going to change.
“Contrary to media reports, the Boy Scouts of America has no plans to change its membership policy,” Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith wrote in a statement. “The introduction of a resolution does not indicate the organization is ‘reviewing’ a policy or signal a change in direction.”
But if Executive Board members introduce a resolution at next year’s board meeting and Stephenson and Turley have convinced enough other board members to vote for it, the Boy Scouts may just change.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2012.